18 January, 2010

Joe Bonamassa - Live From The Royal Albert Hall

Joe Bonamassa's Live From The Royal Albert Hall concert DVD would be an interesting watch even if it was a mediocre show. But this is Joe Bonamassa, one of the greatest guitarists living, and the best of his generation. And this is a fantastic show. But beyond the surface of whether or not the performances are captivating (and they are), is the meaning behind this show. Joe Bonamassa's Royal Albert Hall performance was 20 years in the making - his own personal dream and goal for himself, ever since watching Cream's original farewell concert played there in 1968 - and it shows both in the way this DVD is presented, and in the performances themselves.

Regardless of what raw talent he has (which is undeniable, given that he was opening for B.B. King at the ripe young age of 12), Joe presents himself as the working man of today's blues rock scene, and there's no denying the effort he's put in - honing his craft, garnering a fan base, and slowly climbing the ladder of stardom. This performance at the Royal Albert Hall represents his dream come true, and when he plays to that crowd, you can really feel the payoff.

The nervousness is palpable as the camera tracks Joe's advance to the stage at the beginning of the concert. In the first song, I heard the first bum note I have ever heard Joe play - but the rest of the night was flawless. And when the legend himself, Eric Clapton, finally joins the stage, I felt like that was me up there in Joe's place, after 20 years of effort, finally having a chance to trade licks with God.

Joe Bonamassa is truly an inspiration, not just in the music he plays, but in his approach to that music, and life in general. It's almost enough to make me believe that even I could one day play the Royal Albert Hall (or the Budokan, or the Madison Square Garden, where Led Zeppelin played the performance that first inspired me to pick up the guitar), if only I work my ass off for twenty years. I don't quite believe it, but I almost do. I want to.

Highlights of the first half of the show include the solo in So Many Roads, which Joe really gets into; trading licks with Clapton, which I mentioned above; and, of course, Sloe Gin, which opens real quiet with piano, followed by a somber guitar lead. Joe's wearing a nice suit at the open of the show, but after his duet with Clapton, and just before Sloe Gin, he switches to a black shirt, becoming the man in black. As an aside, I love that all black look, and the sunglasses only add to it.

Joe loosens up in the second half, playing some truly great leads. Paul Jones plays harp on Your Funeral My Trial. The highly polished finesse of Blues Deluxe here - which I love in rougher versions - actually sounds really good. Joe dons a sparkly strapped Flying V (I've got to get a strap like that) for the set-closing Just Got Paid - Zeppelin jam included. And for the encore, we get the beautiful Mountain Time, the intro to which I noted was reminiscent (in structure if not strictly content) of Jimmy Page's White Summer showcase, followed by the also beautiful Asking Around For You, which despite its religious overtones ("if I ever get to heaven"), still manages to get to me.

"Thank you, London, for making this the greatest night of my life."

The bonus interview included on the DVD with Joe in a bus (a snazzy tour bus, not a city bus) is enlightening, and really showcases the depth and breadth of Joe's talent. He talks about a handful of his songs - mostly from the Ballad of John Henry album - both lyrically and musically, delving into his influences and giving impromptu demonstrations on guitar. It's impossible not to be impressed by both the physical talent at playing guitar, and the mental ability to understand music, that this man possesses. Truly inspiring.

I recommend this DVD highly.

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